The Monk and the Box
Back To Top
Tonight's story is a bit of a long one, and, as was the case two weeks ago, it is an early version of a short story related to the larger world that I'm building for my novel series. It's something that could maybe be a prologue or first chapter to a novel in the future, but more than likely it will be the first part of a short story told in three parts.
Check it out, and let me know what you think in the comments.
Back To Top
The Monk and the Box
"Come on, Let’s go.”
The light outside stung his eyes. He still remembered his writing desk - filled with notes that he had been copying and illuminating. But that was before the burning, the beating, and the bag.
He had no idea where he was now. only that the sun beat down so heavily as to make his formerly cool robes feel like a bear pelt.
"Hey! No lagging.” The speaker’s foot found his thigh without problem. After all, there was enough of it to strike, but he was glad of the boot's missing his backside. Spending so much of his life sitting seemed to have tenderized more than harden it.
At the least, he reflected, it was good to be able to stretch out once more. Hunching over the illumination desk for all of those winters had never crumpled his back and he continued to enjoy a height that intimidated most other men. Let alone women.
Though that had never been much of an issue. He remembered what his mother had said of him the night before she sent him to the monastery as the men in hauberks and greaves shouted at him and each other.
“All that fine skin. But no grace. And all that great height and no strength. You’re a misshaped one Hugh, but you’re my misshaped one. Maybe that mind a' yours is at least put right.” He remembered her gnarled cane raising to tap his forehead, “Least it never seems to have pointed you wrong. And it gave you the sponsorship of that roving Friar.
Least ways we can send you off to where the misshaped don’t matter long as the mind is sound. You’ll make me proud yet, you will.”
He brushed a lock of hair out of his eyes as best he could. His hands, tied together as they were, looked oddly over-large to him, as if he hadn’t seen them for days or even weeks. Of course, they were all he'd seen - he never was admitted to the Abbot's order, though he had read and heard about the herbs they used.
“Kneel here.” The man leading Hugh pulled on the rope tied to his bound hands and he fell forward. Unable to catch himself his face broke his fall. He thought he could smell blood, but when he opened his eyes he saw that the flagstone he knelt on was only splotched with dried red patches.
All he had wanted was to be as his elder sister was. Kind and shapely, admired by all - even if, as the brother Olaf had told him in confession, that admiration was only with the eyes. “Eyes make better company than mites.” Hugh had mused to himself then, though he never uttered the words aloud. Only when he was in his cell, struggling to sleep on a bed lengthened with uneven stones. A place whence he knew himself to be entirely alone.
That was still all he wanted, admiration of any sort. But the other brothers only gave congratulations and the Abbot only a wry smile whenever he saw Hugh’s illuminations. Hugh could appreciate their thankfulness for his gifts, but still felt unfulfilled by it. He wondered if any of is work would have survived the fire. He wondered if hoping to find out would help him to do so.
“Say these words.” The rope was yanked again and a piece of parchment was thrust into Hugh's face. Hugh reocgnized the characters but stared at the shapes before they registered.
Something cold reached under his chin. “You can read, can’t you?” The man’s dagger point pricked the excess skin about Hugh’s throat.
“A monk who can’t read? Maybe one of us might as well try to open the damned box. It’s all ended already.” The voice was new and faceless.
“Shut up, Reg. This needs to be seen with fresh eyes. The wise woman said so.”
Reg muttered something as the sound of steel sliding back into a sheath came from his direction.
“You can read, right?”
Hugh looked up into the eyes of his captor.
They were small beady things that looked like the chapel tower windows as the fire licked through the yard. They may even have belonged to the man that burst into the library chamber and threw him from his chair.
“Yes I can read. The brothers taught me.”
“Good. That saves us from cleaning our damn swords later.” The man frowned deeply. “Maybe. Read it.” He pressed the parchment closer into Hugh’s face.
The words had finally settled and they gave Hugh no challenge though he had never seen many before. The parchment was not written in the common tongue, but in the same dialect as some of the older folios and sheaves that he had worked through. Living most of his life with regular prayers in the language made reading the parchment especially easy.
As he began to intone the words, he felt the kiss of steel at his throat.
"Read it to yourself! None of us want to get caught in this, otherwise we wouldn't need an other!" Hugh dared not look up, but a pause suggested a look passed between Reg and Grenn. When he spoke again, Reg's voice carried with it a low grumble, "just move your lips if you have to. Read it t'your self!"
After Hugh had finished reading and looked up, Grenn looked stymied for a moment before pulling his sword from its sheath and raising it over his head.
Hugh threw his hands over his own as he saw and heard the sword swooshing down upon him. He had seen many falcons and owls strike their prey from above but never before suspected that he’d find himself in the role of the rat.
After the sword flashed in its arc one of Hugh's thumbs throbbed, but his wrists felt freer.
“Grenn. Is that a good idea? Letting him loose like that after all his reading?”
“Relax Reg. He’s not about to go anywhere. Not just yet.” Grenn turned to Hugh. Sorry about the thumb, mate. I’m not so used to being precise with this thing.” His sword was swallowed by its sheath.
Hugh lowered his hands and said “It’s alright. What’s this about a box?” He popped his thumb into his mouth. The blood quenched a thirst he hadn’t even been aware of. The flap of his thumb was still well enough attached to keep, he felt. It’s just the end anyway. He pulled his thumb from his mouth, “what, then, about the box?” He still knelt.
“It’s right there. A thing that only the right person can open, at least so Slovan says. But you’re the closest they ever got.” Grenn threw his thumb over his shoulder. “The rest couldn’t read it. Or plain couldn’t read.”
“So what do you expect me to do?” Hugh rubbed his wrists.
“Open the box”
“Why should I do that?” Hugh tried to stand, but a hand from behind him fell onto his shoulder and pushed him back down.
“Hey now. We can end this well for everyone, if you just open the box. No need to get up so fast.”
Hugh heard steel ring against steel all around him. He noticed Grenn reading the parchment as his lips fell into a solid line.
“Now get up. But take it slow. Slow. Just to the box.”
Hugh made his way to where the box sat step by step. The place was completely walled in, yet but there was no echo. He swore he saw water dropping from the ceiling, but he never heard the sound of dripping. His steps were short and shallow, and he realized that his feet were still bound together.
He stopped at the box and looked at it. A large stone contaier of one sort or another. He reached for its edge but Grenn shouted him out of it.
“Wait. Wait. Here” He handed Hugh the parchment. “Hold it while you open it.”
Hugh searched the man but found no answer in his face. He held the paper in oe hand and dedicated the other to the box’s lid. It looked and felt as heavy as the bell rope in the chapel tower. But it moved so quickly that Hugh wondered if it was fleeing his hand rather than being pushed by it.
As the lid slid away, the box’s interior was revealed. A hollow dull space, occupied only by a bundled folio.
Back To Top
That's it for this blog until my review of The Room and Annotated Links #24 are posted on Friday and Saturday respectively, but don't miss out my Latin and Old English translations and commentaries on Tuesday and Thursday over at Tongues in Jars.
Back To Top